Rheumatic Fever: Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, And Treatment Options

Rheumatic fever is caused due to a throat infection by the group A streptococcus bacteria, which manifests itself as a strep throat or scarlet fever. Usually, the indications of rheumatic fever show up about five weeks after a streptococcal infection of the throat is left untreated. However, most streptococcal throat infections do not result in rheumatic fever. As a matter of fact, only a small percentage of cases of untreated throat infection actually develop into rheumatic fever.

Rheumatic fever, in fact, is an acute inflammatory condition which can affect various parts of the body such as the joints, the heart, the skin, and the nervous system. Rheumatic fever usually afflicts children between 6-15 years of age, although it can develop at any age. Females are twice as susceptible to the disease compared to males.

In many of the cases, it has been seen that rheumatic fever affects the valves of the heart, known as rheumatic carditis, which hampers the normal flow of blood through the heart. However, prompt treatment of a streptococcal throat infection, using antibiotics, can prevent rheumatic fever from occurring.

This disease is not as prevalent in the US these days as it used to be prior to the widespread use of penicillin in the early part of the 20th century. However, outbreaks of rheumatic fever do take place occasionally, and it still occurs quite commonly in developing countries.

What are the Indications of Rheumatic Fever?

Although the symptoms of rheumatic fever may differ according to each child, here are some of the most common indications of this condition:

  • Inflammation of the joints, which includes redness, tenderness, and swelling. Usually the larger joints like the ankles or the knees are affected, and the inflammation shifts from one joint to the next over a number of days.
  • Round, hard bumps or nodules that occur under the skin.
  • A change in the neuromuscular movements of the child, which can manifest itself as jerky movements or the handwriting of the child being affected.
  • A pink colored rash with unusual edges which usually occur on the legs and arms, or the trunk.
  • Loss of weight.
  • Fever
  • Pain in the stomach
  • Fatigue

Since the indications of rheumatic fever can resemble other diseases, it is best to confirm the diagnosis by consulting a physician.

What are the Risks of Rheumatic Fever Developing?

As has been mentioned above, it is children in the age range of 5-15 who are at high risk of developing rheumatic fever, especially if they are susceptible to frequent bouts of streptococcal throat infections. Children who have a family history of rheumatic fever are also at high risk of getting the disease. Since streptococcal throat infections generally occur in the spring and winter, there are higher incidences of the disease during these seasons. Although a streptococcal throat infection is contagious, rheumatic fever is not. It is a development of the streptococcal infection when not treated promptly.

What is the Treatment for Rheumatic Fever?

Generally, a combination of the three approaches given below is used to treat rheumatic fever.

Treating the Streptococcal Infection: The immediate aim has to be using antibiotics to treat the infection, which is done despite the throat culture turning out to be negative. After the initial treatment for streptococcal infection, monthly antibiotic doses may be continued in order to help in preventing further complications.

Medications to Treat the Inflammation: Medications may be prescribed to help in relieving the pain in the joints as well as reduce the swelling in the heart muscle.

Adequate Bed Rest: The physician will prescribe the length of the bed rest according to the severity of the disease, which can be from 2-12 weeks.

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